Dr. Val FarmerDr.Val
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Transcript Of Former Farmers' Advice

October 8, 2002

During the course of the interview the final question normally asked of the participants was whether they had any closing thoughts or advice to the readers of this study or to other farmers that they would like to share. All of them did. The responses ranged from advice to farmers to get out of farming and sell it before you lose it to keep giving it a try and see what happens. Many of the female farmers expressed concern in response to this question about their lack of involvement with the finances and not being more informed and involved in that aspect of the farm. Others said that they trusted their husband and signed on the dotted line, but had little if any idea about the financial standing of the farm. Participants would often reflect on their experience and what trials and challenges they had gone through. They seemed to appreciate offering some closing remarks and advice to other farmers or to professionals who might benefit from reading their words. The theme of advice to others divided into three main themes. These included advice to farmers to get out of the business before they are forced out and lose everything, advice to talk to someone and communicate about the experience in some way, and a third category of closing thoughts and ideas.

Advice to Get Out

The first category of advice to others covered the decision to get out of farming. Several participants seemed to feel quite strongly about quitting farming without hesitation if the situation looked bleak. Many of these farmers drew on very personal experience and said:

Don’t wait so long. If my husband would have quit the year before he quit …he sold his beet stock because that would give him enough money to do one more year. When you start selling assets to pay for farming, you have gone too far. Don’t go that extra. We would have had something to sell to pay this debt off with, and we need to be more honest and open with how bad it is, because when you start selling your assets you know you are going backwards. He knew what he was doing, I mean, he’s not stupid, but he chose to do that and if I have any advice for anybody it is to get out while you still can pay the debts. Because there is a point that you can, that’s not mortgaging the land, made it so that we have that collateral. And they are making it just absolutely just miserable for us now. But in 1991 when we split our assets, I hated the beets then too, and so I said the minute you die I will sell the beets. And the lawyer said that is crazy. Why do you have the beets under your name if you hate them? Why don’t you have my husband take that and you take the land? So in 1991 we put the land in my name. And nobody knew that because no one was paying any attention. And so now they can’t touch that land because the judgments are not on me, they are on my husband. And so my land is free. And they are just furious. And so when you start selling assets to pay the farm, you are going too far. Stop and just think it over and really pray. And just don’t lose your faith because if you do you will go down a slippery slope that you will never recover from. And nothing is so bad that if you have your health and you have your family, that’s the most important thing. There was a guy at Val Farmer’s last reunion and he said that he had 2 crops that were the most wonderful crops that he ever had, and it was his son and his daughter and he just started to cry. And he said no one can take that from me. They can take everything else, they stripped everything from me, but they can’t take that. And I thought, isn’t that the truth, and that’s what we take so for granted. We act like it is no big deal but it is a big deal. And so, just don’t ever give up or ever leave your children out of it so they feel like they are not a part, because it is very important that they know what we are doing and know what is going on in our life. And know they can’t fix it but they won’t be surprised either. I think they had a big enough surprise when we went broke. And that was hard enough but don’t do it to them again. So, that’s all I have. (7)

Another farmer appeared to have similar views and said:

Oh ... get out if you see it’s going backwards and you still have equity, get out and let somebody else rent the land. That’s what I tried to do here was to quit and let somebody else come in and rent the land. Because if you own the land and the farm economy turns around where it would be more profitable to get into it, if you have the land you can get into it tomorrow. That’s no problem. But if you don’t have the land its impossible to get back in. If you don’t have the land you can’t afford to get back in. The other one, my advice would be to for family farm operations, where one person is in charge of the books, they better have a meeting and open up the books every month and open the books to all members involved where everybody can see what’s going on. If that person who is in charge of the books doesn’t want to show you what’s going on with the books, and where the money is going other than the check he hands you every month or week or whatever it is, you better get an attorney and subpoena them and take a look at them. And argue it out, just because it’s your brother or uncle or even your father, I’ve heard so many stories, so many guys, I mean it is unbelievable, I know guys who are 40 years old who don’t know what their books look like, their dad keeps the books and they don’t dare ask. Well, they better wake up. I just wish there was some way to enlighten the farmers who are still out there. Get them to look at their operations and get it through their heads that it is not worth a life or mental health or physical health. There are other things to do in life and if the neighbors are going to talk the neighbors are going to talk whether you make it or fail. I mean, I quit drinking 18 years ago, and I can still go into that bar in MN and still see the same people sitting on the same stools talking about the same things for 18 years and they are talking about everybody who isn’t sitting in there at the time…. Well, they are really talking today but it ain’t going to affect my life any, but a lot of people worry about what other people say, they do. They are afraid to show their face in the community and it is not worth losing your health or your life or whatever to keep something going. The number one reason people don’t get out is they don’t know how to get out. If they get out Uncle Sam owns them for life, and I am in the same predicament here. I am just waiting for everything to fall through and for Uncle Sam to come looking for me and I am going to file personal bankruptcy. It is the only thing I can do, there is no way I can. They are going to come after me for over a million dollars in taxes. I have about $4,000 in my checking account, I don’t think I can pay it. (8)

Finally, another farmer said:

Yeah, get out. Financially it takes a couple different ways of doing it, but go to some advisors of some kind. Strategically look at your finances, know where you are at all times, don’t get in too deep. Don’t stay in the same groove. Find different avenues, don’t keep doing the same thing. Take some risks and go in some different directions. Some specialty crop but don’t do too much of it. Don’t get yourself tied to something, takes some breaks, and have some enjoyment with your family. Be as open as you can. Now that we were able to get out we are going to be able to get financing again without any problem, but it was just that we knew it was time. We can’t forecast what is down the road. So it’s, I think after that, I know places that have lost it all, unfortunately. So, I guess basically just get all the help you can in every direction, financial, mental, physical. I guess since going to the farmer’s retreat, I felt that was very good. Very good for me to see others and for others to see me, and opening up to each other and knowing that we are not alone out there. Those making decisions to stay in should know what’s coming up. Whoever can support those things when things are tough, I would recommend them to people because I think they can save a lot of people in the long run from bankruptcy, or saving their farm, or the decision to go on or not to go on. This would help people, and whoever sponsors these things, I think it is very important for the health of the agricultural communities. Farmers are very self-sufficient and they take it all on themselves and they need the support of each other. And it may not be your next-door neighbor, it could be somebody in the next county or two counties away that you run into at one of these that you just talk with and throw things back and forth. That’s how it works in AA, you click with somebody that you feel comfortable with. It’s really a unique way to get your feelings out. So, it’s not such a big load, you and somebody else can carry it together. (2)

This advice seemed to be important to these and other farmers. With the experience they have had they felt this was the best advice they could give to farmers who might read their words. They not only spoke of getting out of the business, but of valuing family and not worrying about gossip and getting assistance as needed. The next theme that emerged among farm couples who shared some closing thoughts or advice was about the importance of talking and opening up to someone.

Closing Thoughts

The last theme to emerge in the category of advice to others simply included closing statements of experience, hope and advice. Many of the farmers expressed empathy and concern for other farmers who were still farming. They seemed to have a sincere hope that things would go well for those still fighting for agriculture and their way of life, but also a concern about the single-minded determination often found in farmers because it can also lead to challenges like it did for many of the participants of this study. One closing thought was shared by Charlie, who said:

Um, I think I wish I would have been more actively involved with the financial end so I understood it. I mean, that’s it. I wish I would have known and it wasn’t that he told me or didn’t, it was that I chose not to be involved. I chose just to sign my name and not look at what it was what I was signing, um, trusting that it was going to be fine instead of being a responsible adult, you know, and understanding things, not expecting someone else to take care of me and he’ll take care of it but to be part of it and to be a partner. (8)

Another male farmer felt it was important to say something to the government and the politicians who say they understand and want to help but are far behind the experience of farmers today. He stated:

One other thing, one of the things that I find humorous is that our politicians still get on the podium and thump their chests and say they are going to save the family farm. They’re too late, I mean, for the most part it’s done. A lot of the operations that are in business now are outside money coming in, you know, non-farm money invested. This "family farm", I mean, these guys are in the dark ages, they lost that one back in the eighties. (2)

Both of these farmers were reflecting back on their past experience. Another of the farmers wanted to make it clear to others that his life is very good now. He felt it important to tell farmers who may read this that his life is as good or better than it has ever been, that there is hope without farming. He indicated:

Oh, just the success I’ve had now. I’m down to uh, dreaming again… about a future. I’m back to talking about what I’d like to do…in the future. I’ve never had that before that wasn’t there. I was just kinda concerned making it through the day. I really didn’t have any hopes or aspirations of doing anything else and now that’s all come back. I feel good about that. But, again, I have some dreams and I have some hopes of some things that I want to do and accomplish, yeap, that are very meaningful to me. And maybe feel something very rewarding. (10)

The last narrative is from a participant who went against all assumptions and appeared to have little trouble with leaving the farm and finding another job. He gave the advice of simply moving on and recognizing that it wasn’t your fault or anyone else’s but it was just the way things happened. He said:

Move on, don’t dwell on it, I mean don’t even think that you are at fault for having to quit farming. It’s nobody’s fault, it’s just the economics is what it was, you know, some people are a little better leveraged than other people were and that’s how they make it through. But everybody was losing at that time, everybody was losing their equity. You just have to put that behind you. It’s not your fault you don’t have to feel bad about it, just move on, get a job and go to work. And if you don’t want to do that then don’t do that, so, but that’s not for me. I think if people dwell on it too much it just tears them apart and what’s the point of that? (16)

Many of the participants had some closing advice for future readers. Much of their advice seemed to focus on the idea of recognizing the fact that is not the farmer's fault and they should not blame themselves and cause themselves great mental anguish. They seemed to focus on the facts of life. To recognize this and move past it, is their advice, but to do so as is shown in many narratives can be very hard to do. (Narrative taken from a Masters Thesis by Josh Frazier at the North Dakota State University. Used by Permission.